Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Treats: Peppermint Bark and Candy Cane Stirring Sticks

One of my favorite parts about Christmas "food" is the excuse to eat candy canes. It's just not the same if you eat them in June. I have a ton of them sitting in my pantry right now and knew that I needed to somehow use them up or what ever mass amount I didn't eat would just sit there until next year.

I decided to follow along with my attempt to make all my gifts this year. I figured that I could make a couple tasty little treats, using candy canes, that I could put in people's packages with their gifts. So I made peppermint bark and candy cane stirring sticks.

The peppermint bark, which is an outrageous (albeit delicious) crave during the holiday season, amazed me how easy it is to make. I figured that it was tough to recreate with how nuts people go over it and how much company's charge for it. I've never tasted the Williams Sonoma peppermint bark but I have heard that it's the best out there. Well, no one's had mine yet.

I also have a ton of candy melts and candy "bark" leftover from making my cake balls so I just used that. I melted in a pot an unmeasured amount. I probably used, for the brown chocolate batch, about 3 of the bark (milk chocolate) bricks and half a cup of (dark chocolate) candy melts. Once it was liquid, I poured it onto some tinfoil that I'd laid out on a cookie sheet. Then I sprinkled this with crushed candy cane, some silver sprinkles and put it in the fridge overnight. I made another batch using vanilla almond bark and white chocolate candy melts (mixed). Both batches are amazing. It was seriously hard for me not to "misplace" it all in my mouth.

I also made what I'm calling Candy Cane Stirring Sticks. I LOVE peppermint hot chocolate. One of my favorite things to get during the holidays while we're out is the Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. Oh man. Every year. Love it. At home, during the holidays, I like to stir my hot chocolate with a candy cane. I decided to melt some of the dark chocolate candy melts, dip the end of the candy cane into it, put some silver sprinkles on it and call it a stirring stick. I tried it today for the first time and let me tell you. Something about how the dark chocolate mixes with the peppermint while it's melting really adds a delightful richness to the hot chocolate. I'm hooked. I will probably never drink hot chocolate any other way for the rest of my life (don't quote me on that though). This is another incredibly easy, yet enjoyable, treat to make and give to friends or family during the holidays. Put the candy cane in a cute bag with a packet of instant hot chocolate, tie it up with a pretty bow and tag and you've got yourself an easy gift to give to your co workers or maybe the mail lady or even the neighbor that isn't your favorite and you didn't feel like spending money on but still feel the need to be polite to. What? I didn't do that.

Easy and yummy is always a good combination when it comes to holiday snacks! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cake Balls: Attempt #2

Ok, so I posted before about how I tried to make the coveted cake balls and that the consistency of the cake inside and that the candy coating just seemed to be off. The cake was too moist and mushy and quite frankly sickeningly sweet and that the coating texture was weird.

I gave the cake balls another shot and they turned out great. I made red velvet ones with a chocolate coating and a vanilla coating. The chocolate ones were better. This time, I used about 3/4 of the can of frosting. This made a HUGE difference in the taste and texture of the cake. I also changed the coating. Before, I used those candy melts that you can buy at the craft stores. This time, I used chocolate and vanilla almond bark that I bought at Walmart. I know the local grocery story sold barks as well though. I got the recipe from Bakerella.

I also made cheesecake balls. Incredibly easy. I got this recipe from Bakerella as well. She used a real cheese cake and honestly, I wish I had to, but I used a no bake cheese cake which seemed to work fine. I just think they would have tasted richer and more "cheesecakey" with a real cheese cake. On these, I used the same chocolate and vanilla coating but I added a twist. I used the leftover chocolate coating and added some raspberry extract to it and to the vanilla coating I added lemon extract. I then drizzled these on top of the cheese cake balls. I loved the added flavor. It also helped lighten up the heavy taste of the cheese cake and candy coating. They were delicious.

I got both recipes from Bakerella. Her creations are amazing and easy to follow.

Adventures in Canning

I've been dying to start canning stuff for months now. I just decided to do it and get it over with. See if I could really do it and if it was as easy as some people make it out to be. And after giving it a go myself, I learned that it's really not hard after all.
I canned Strawberry Jam, Raspberry/Blackberry Jam, Triple Berry Jam (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry), Bread and Butter Pickles, and Spicy Pickled Garlic.

The first thing I tried was the Pickled Garlic. I got the recipe online from a site called "Pinch My Salt". It was a really simple recipe. The only problem I ended up having was that my garlic turned blue. It freaked me out pretty bad. I actually threw out the first batch because scared me so much. It looked fine when I canned it but after about 20 minutes, the garlic started to change color. According to a site called Food Preservation (and EVERY other site I visited when inquiring about my blue garlic), garlic turns blue as a reaction to the pickling process and IS safe to eat. There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with it. It's just a little freaky if you're not aware that it can happen. The recipe I used called for a chili pepper but I threw in two tobasco peppers. I have honestly never tried pickled garlic. I just know that other family members of mine LOVE it. I'm still a little scared to try but I will say that the batch that I ended up throwing out made the trashcan (and the entire rest of the house) smell like garlicy goodness!

And after it "blued"...

Before the garlic "blued"...

The second thing I tried were the jams. These were crazy easy because my bread machine has a jam setting on it. The recipe called for two cups of chopped fruit, a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of fruit pectin. Throw it all in and turn it on. I made three different jams with it. So far, I've only tasted the strawberry jam and it was amazing.
Strawberry Jam

Blackberry/Raspberry Jam


The final canning project was Bread and Butter Pickles. I was so excited to try and make these since they're a delightful part of my childhood memories. They're also a delicious part of my dad's childhood memories. They were REALLY easy to make. And they're so good. They taste just like the ones my parents used to can when I was a kid. Seriously, eating them took me back to simpler times. I will always have a jar in my fridge from now on. The recipe I used was from Simply Canning.


I can not stress how simple it is to make these. I mean, I was able to do all this while taking care of a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 5 month old all by myself. No sweat. I highly recommend canning to any one that has the ability to do it. There's something satisfying about knowing that you've prepared your own foods and that you've been able to stock up on random things with out having to spend a ton of money. I got all my jars really cheap at Walmart. Many of the pickling salts and spices I found in the spice isle of Walmart too. If you're able to do it, it'll save money in the long run and you'll be amazed at what you're able to can.

I highly recommend you do your research before you begin canning though. I was surprised at what you CAN can but even more so at what you can't. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is an excellent website to browse through before you begin. It's a website approved of by the USDA and the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service System. It provides safety tips and resources. It's easy to can but it's also easy to mess it up if you're not careful.

Chicken and Spinach Penne

I can never think of what to call my dishes so they end up with lame names that don't do them justice like "Chicken and Spinach Penne". This dish was so stinkin delicious that it deserves a better name than that. I'm just not good at that kind of stuff.

Again, I can't stress how easy it is to overuse or waste food. I liked this dish because I only used half a breast of chicken in it and had more than enough for me and my two oldest children. We even have leftovers. The dish started out as just a plan to use the chicken and some spinach served on top of penne noodles but as I got cooking, I kept adding ingredients and I'm so glad I did. It was so amazing. My mouth is watering and my stomach is growling just thinking about it.


half a breast of chicken
1 tablespoons of butter
3 slices of bacon
3 slices of sundried tomatoes, chopped
half a cup of tomato, chopped
one scallion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
4 large handfuls of uncooked spinach leaves (like my measuring tools?)
 salt and pepper to taste (although I didn't use any of either)
penne noodles

I just threw everything in the pan and sauteed it until all the meat was cooked and the flavors had some time to blend together. Between the butter, the juices from the chicken and bacon, the juices from the regular tomatoes as well as the oil from the sundried tomatoes, there was a delicious "sauce" that helped coat the noodles.

My son scarfed his down and my daughter picked out the sundried tomatoes and put them on her brother's plate. She ate the rest though. I had to fight myself to not get a second helping. It was delicious and wasn't a really heavy pasta dish (which they can many times become). Satisfying and delicious is all you can hope for in a meal and I hit it out of the park with this one. Really easy, little clean up and leftovers were added bonuses.